The lower 21 miles of the St. Louis River, the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, form the 4856 ha St. Louis River estuary. Despite the effects of more than 100 years of industrialized and urban development as a major Great Lakes port, the estuary remains the most significant source of biological productivity for western Lake Superior, and provides important wetland, sand beach, forested, and aquatic habitat types for a wide variety of fish and wildlife communities.
The lower St. Louis River and surrounding watershed were designated an 'Area of Concern' (AOC) under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1989, listing nine beneficial use impairments (BUIs), such as loss of fish and wildlife habitat, degraded fish and wildlife populations, degradation of benthos, and fish deformities. To address these BUIs, the St. Louis River Alliance (SLRA) completed the Lower St. Louis River Habitat Plan, which identified ecosystems and sites with significant habitat limitations due to contaminated sediments and other unknown factors. The 21st Avenue West Habitat Complex is one of several priority sites for a 'Remediation-to-Restoration' (R-to-R) project. The intent of the R-to-R process is to implement remediation activities to address limiting factors such as sediment contamination while also implementing restoration projects that best complement the desired ecological vision.
This report documents the initial steps in the R-to-R process underway at 21st Avenue West, the development of an “Ecological Design” for the project area, and a preliminary evaluation of factors potentially limiting the realization of habitat and other land use goals. To establish the basis for this ecological design, researchers at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), in cooperation with U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other partners, sampled the project area from late summer 2011 through fall 2012. The intent of field sampling was to establish baseline information on vegetation, benthos, birds, sediment contamination and types, and ecotoxicology. The subsequent ecological design effort will explore options to increase the overall footprint of quality aquatic vegetation beds and spawning habitat available, soften and extend shorelines, and remove or reduce the effect of industrially-influenced substrates. These options will be presented to adjacent landowners, as well as local and regional stakeholders, to contribute to the discussion on R-to-R options. The desired outcome of the project is to significantly increase the biological productivity of this complex of river flats and sheltered bays, in fulfillment of the SLRA Habitat Plan (SLRA 2002), while minimizing the risk of exposure of contaminants to fish and wildlife resources. This project was funded under USFWS Cooperative Agreement Number F11AC00517, and is part of the USFWS Environmental Contaminants Program’s goal to address contaminant-related needs of the St. Louis River Area of Concern as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Agreement F11AC00517
Host, George E; Meysembourg, Paul; Reschke, Carol; Brady, Valerie; Niemi, Gerald J; Bracey, Annie; Johnson, Lucinda B; James, Matthew; Austin, Jay; Buttermore, Elissa.
An Ecological Design for the 21st Avenue West Remediation-to-Restoration Project.
University of Minnesota Duluth.
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